Thursday, September 18, 2014

On My Fifth Birthday: My Top 10 Movie Soundtracks

A friend recently sent me a clip, which I was trying to avoid watching for a few days at all costs. But then I watched it, and when you compare it to the real glorious event, it makes you think: what a fascinating concept film music is, and how (as shown in this simple example) it defines some of the cinema's greatest moments.

I mean, how can you even imagine a shark fin rising from the waters, a knife (supposedly) stabbing a girl in the shower, or a prehistoric ape smashing an animal's bones ... without hearing the soundtrack in the back of your mind? Those scenes don't exist without the soundtrack.

So I thought, for the occasion of the blog's fifth birthday, how about spicing it up by posting my 10 favorite soundtracks of all time? I'm neither counting movies with a compilation of songs as soundtracks (so unfortunately Grease and Saturday Night Fever and all Tarantino movies are out), nor any musicals (sorry, Sound of Music). The list is composed of original music written purely for the movie. Each composer gets only one chance - otherwise, John Williams would have grabbed at least 7 of the 10 slots.

And for each movie, I'll post the track the film reminds me of the most, ... so get ready for things to get a little strange here. In alphabetical order:

1. 1492: Conquest of Paradise (Vangelis, 1992)

Vangelis has quite a few great moments in the movie world, primarily the soundtracks of Blade Runner and Chariots of Fire. But Ridley Scott made this incredible Christopher Columbus film (which I'm not sure why it bombed), and Vangelis composed its even greater soundtrack. Among the tracks, the actual moment Columbus and his crew set foot on America is made both victorious and menacing, because of Vangelis' music.

2. Dances With Wolves (John Barry, 1990)

I know, John Barry means James Bond soundtracks. But the guy got five Oscars for his works, and none of them were for Bond movies. Among the Oscar winners, I have some incredible sense of nostalgia for Dances With Wolves, and although this would be considered the film's most recognized theme, the following track resonates with me the most: the film is almost over, the Indians' lands will soon be lost, and their struggle was for nothing.

"Dances with Wolves! I am Wind In His Hair! Do you see that I am your friend?! Can you see that you will always be my friend?!"

3. Edward Scissorhands (Danny Elfman, 1990)

This movie seems to end up on all my ten favorite things of everything. But I can't elude its magic - especially the ending scene, where we finally realize where snow comes from (Edward is making ice statues on the hilltop). Listen to how the dream-like main them walks you through the climactic last scene, and blends in with the end credits, in "The Grand Finale":

4. The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly (Ennio Morricone, 1966)

How can any favorite movie soundtrack list be complete without a mention of Ennio Morricone? In my very humble opinion, the entire Western genre culminates in this one greatest scene, when after hours (in our time) of searching ... Tuco is finally there. He's finally found the cemetery where the treasure is buried. All he needs to do, is to find the gravestone. So he keeps on looking - in circles and circles. Listen to how the music crescendos at a dizzying speed as he runs; how the glory of this moment would have been impossible without Morricone's music. Fortunately, I found the actual scene:

5. The Message (Maurice Jarre, 1977)

I guessed Maurice Jarre specialized in composing foreign melodies: Russian for Doctor Zhivago, Arabic for Lawrence of Arabia, Indian for A Passage to India. But he also wrote the Arabic-themed soundtrack for this lesser known movie in Western countries, The Message, about the life of Mohammad, which by some estimates is the most-seen movie of all time. Geographical setting aside, I've never heard of a soundtrack more appropriately "spiritual". And considering that Jarre also wrote the mesmerizing soundtrack for Jesus of Nazareth, I guess you can infer a certain amount about the man's spiritual side:

By the way, you can find the full movie here.

6. North by Northwest (Bernard Hermann, 1959)

When it comes to Bernard Hermann, not mentioning Psycho's soundtrack (chopped up lines in a background of choppy music, describing a shattered mind) would be a crime. But I can't help it. When I think of the names Hermann and Hitchcock, I hear the opening rumbles of North by Northwest first.

7. The Omen (Jerry Goldsmith, 1976)

As soon as I mention hardworking Goldsmith's only Oscar-winner, you may think of Ave Satani. But nothing matches the scene where Gregory Peck and David Warner are attacked by dogs at the cemetery. (Second mention of a cemetery; cemeteries must be very soundtrack-prone.) Without watching the film and just by listening, you can follow step by step what is happening in the scene. Which is actually the beauty of a great soundtrack.

I couldn't find a separate YouTube clip, but the above-described track starts from minute 32:30, ending at 35:50:

8. The Rock (Hans Zimmer, 1996)

With all his improvisations, Hans Zimmer is getting up there as one of the highest ranking soundtrack composers in movie history. But this was the one that introduced me to him first. The entire Rock soundtrack is an incredibly energizing experience, and if you listen to the music for the San Francisco chase scene (Nicholas Cage driving a Ferrari in hot pursuit of Sean Connery's Hummer), you may achieve road rage status. So seriously, don't listen to this while driving.

9. Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (James Horner, 1982)

Interestingly, as crappy as the first Star Trek movie was, Jerry Goldsmith's music was so good, they used it for the New Generation TV series. But then James Horner (of later Aliens and Braveheart and Legends of the Fall and A Beautiful Mind and Titanic and ... soundtracks fame) came along, and wrote music of such power and allure for the second installment, that combined with the movie's memorable story, surpassed all expectation, and made The Wrath of Khan the best Star Trek movie to this day. You can find the entire soundtrack online, but my favorite track belongs to the film's most pivotal scene: a parallel editing between Kirk in the Enterprise, and Khan in the Reliant, when after so many years, Khan's moment of revenge has come, and he utters the lovely sentence:

"Ah, Kirk, my old friend, do you know the Klingon proverb that tells us revenge is a dish that is best served cold? It is very cold in space ..."

10. Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back (John Williams, 1980)

When it comes to John Williams, how can one possibly choose? Which soundtrack? Which track? Do you go with the music accompanying ... humans communicating with the Mother Ship? The bicycle flying into the night? Indy on the rope bridge? Seeing the brachiosaurus for the first time? Or Oskar Schindler having a nervous breakdown? Utterly impossible.

So the best you can do, is to come up with the best compilation - the best "whole".

In that regard, three movies shine: Star Wars: A New Hope, Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back, and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. ANH is probably John Williams most recognized achievement, but when assessing a movie soundtrack in its entirety, I believe ESB is 'slightly' more profound. This soundtrack has so many everlasting moments: the Imperial March, the battle in the snow, the asteroid field scene, and even Yoda's beautiful theme. But in terms of movie background music, one track stands out, and I told you, this will get strange: "The Duel".

Starts out with Vader using the Force to hurl huge objects at Luke, then moves to Leia and Lando fighting their way through Bespin's corridors to reach the Millennium Falcon, R2-D2 decoding and opening the platform gate, and the ship swooping away with four uplifting notes. Listen, and you can actually "see" these events happening right before your eyes.

So ... which are your favorite soundtracks?


  1. Happy Birthday!

    A fine selection, I can't disagree with your number one choice of course.

    I'd probably have Jaws and Psycho in my top ten plus Batman Returns.

    1. Thanks!

      Although I have to say these are not ranked in order of importance (they're alphabetically ordered), I agree that "Batman Returns" is one of Elfman's best - especially the music to the opening sequence, showing the origins of the Penguin.

      BTW: Sorry the election didn't work out the way you liked.

    2. Elections rarely go the way I want but I'm over it already.

      I agree with you about the opening sequence of "Batman Returns", it was truly magical.

      How could I forget to mention my favourite movie soundtrack! Suspiria by Goblin!!

    3. As we already discussed, "Suspiria" the movie didn't affect me as a horror film, but now that I listen to the soundtrack you just posted on Facebook, I believe it's quite impressive in creating a creepy atmosphere.

  2. Happy Birthday! Here is my list(in a randomly order):

    1. Braveheart (James Horner, 1995)
    2. 1492: Conquest of Paradise (Vangelis, 1992)
    3. Cinema Paradiso (Ennio Morricone, 1988)
    4. Requiem for a Dream (Clint Mansell & Kronos Quartet, 2000)
    5. Schindler's List (John Williams, 1993)
    6. Indecent Proposal (John Barry, 1993)
    7. The Message (Maurice Jarre, 1977)
    8. The Lion King (Hans Zimmer, 1994)
    9. Papillon (Jerry Goldsmith, 1973)
    10. Gangs of New York (Howard Shore, 2002)

    انشالا تولد صد و بیست سالگی رو جشن بگیریم

    1. Thanks! It appears in terms of composer, we have quite a few interests in common. I'm slightly familiar with the soundtrack for "The Gangs of New York", but know nothing about "Indecent Proposal"'s music at all! I should look into it!

      And the tragic/hallucinatory music for "Requiem for a Dream" is a masterpiece.


  3. Dear Mo : Sorry for coming to Birthday party dast khaly! I'm moving to new town ! That's why I need an extra time for providing my feedback and my own know I can't do sambalkary !just for now ,thank you for giving me a pleasure of reading your opinions about all movies you are watching regardless I might have a chance to see or not . No matter I agree or disagree or like it or not .The fact is I really enjoy your notes. That's it!
    Charles Dickens: Life is nothing without good company.

    1. And thanks to you! As I've said before, the constant company and enthusiasm of readers like you is what keeps me going.

  4. First of all , thank you again for comprehensive and great note (as usual !) and bringing up all clips . Listening to all of your favorites , one by one ,was quite joyful and enjoying experience for today.!
    Well....Actually whenever I hear Vangelis's famous music , it reminds me a clip in IRIB that pictured some painful scenes of Iran-Iraq war.I'm sorry , I haven't watch this epic movie yet ,although I have DVD. Soon !
    No doubt I think this score is one of the most beautiful electronic composing of all time.
    It was nice to mention 2 Cemetery scenes !:) actually the music of both scenes are too strong and impressive that would definitely dominate the fear of the place !The Ecstasy of Gold& Omen are exceptional samples in movie &music history, I guess.
    Edward Scissorhands :I'm less in words of describing its beauty.About Dances with the wolves and Message , I couldn't agree anymore !And I think listening to all of Hans Zimmerès work is forbidden during driving !
    Since your approaching is too professional to the topic of movie's soundtrack , I can't walk beside you ! so I just mention my favorites by a simple explanation from my search in net ,...about soundtrack.It may save time for u or those who are fan of these options like me !

    1.GONE WITH THE WIND : "Tara’s Theme," , BY Max Steiner , who composed over 300 film scores and was nominated for 24 Academy Awards but winning three, although not for this movie, which instead went to Herbert Stothart for the musical The Wizard of Oz. The film’s theme song, however, is currently one of the “most easily recognizable motifs in the history of film music.The score is ranked #2 by AFI as the second greatest American film score of all time.

    2.Amelie- Comptine D' un Autre Ete

    Yann Tiersen , 44 YO Breton (French ) musician, not composer. His music involves a large variety of instruments,In two weeks, Tiersen composed nineteen pieces for this film and also the recipient of the César Award for Best Music Written and of the World Soundtrack Academy award for Amelie, . The soundtrack album charted in many countries.
    I think when a soundtrack's impact on audience surpassed the movie itself , so it shows how brilliant it might be . This is exactly what happened in Amelie!

    3. Doctor Zhivago . " Lara's Theme"-
    When I listen to it , it just hypnotizes me !
    While working on the soundtrack for Doctor Zhivago, Maurice Jarre was asked by director David Lean to come up with a theme for the character of Lara, played by Julie Christie. . After several unsuccessful attempts at writing it, Lean suggested to Jarre that he go to the mountains with his girlfriend and write a piece of music for her. Jarre says that the resultant piece was "Lara's Theme"

    4.The Lion King Soundtrack - To die For
    I really had hard time to choose which is the best of Zimmer. Really hard ! but when Simba first sees the wildebeest stampede to when he flees his father's dead body ....every time I see this scene I can't stop crying.
    The soundtrack was recorded in three different countries: the U.S., the U.K. and South Africa. It is the best-selling soundtrack album to an animated movie in the U.S. with over 7 million copies sold, with 4,934,000 copies sold in 1994

    Amazing the film was nominated for eleven Academy Awards but not composing ! all composed by Mozart!
    In Oscar Ceremony ,Maurice Jarre won the Oscar for Best Original Music Score for his scoring of A Passage to India. In his acceptance speech for the award, Jarre remarked "I was lucky Mozart was not eligible this year!

    Who may not like it ?!
    Director Michael Mann initially asked Trevor Jones to provide an electronic score for the film, but late in the game, it was decided an orchestral score would be more appropriate for this historic epic. Jones hurried to re-fashion the score for orchestra in the limited time left, while the constant re-cutting of the film meant music cues sometimes had to be rewritten several times to keep up with the new timings.Finally, with the release date looming, composer Randy Edelman was called-in to score some minor scenes which Jones did not have time to do. Jones and Edelman received co-credit on the film (thus making this very popular and acclaimed score ineligible for Oscar consideration, however it did win the Oscar for best Sound Mixing).

    7.The Godfather Love Theme"
    Not love theme ! but how could you miss the masterpiece of Godfather score in your list? The music of Korean of cinema !. unforgivable !
    Music by Nino Rota ,Italian composer ,he had used a more comedic version of the song for the 1958 film Fortunella. When this was discovered, Rota's score for The Godfather was disqualified from consideration at the 1973 Academy Awards; it had been nominated for Best Original Score.However, Rota's score for The Godfather Part II won the 1974 Academy Award for Best Score, despite containing the same piece.

    8.ONCE UPON A TIME IN AMERICA-"Deborah's Theme"
    Due to the film's long production, Morricone had finished composing most of the soundtrack before many scenes had been filmed. Some of Morricone's pieces were played on set as filming took place (a technique that Leone used for Once Upon a Time in the West). "Deborah's Theme" was written for another film in the 1970s but rejected; Morricone presented the piece to Leone, who was initially reluctant, considering it too similar to Morricone's main title for Once Upon a Time in the West.

    9.Jerry Goldsmith - The Cassandra Crossing (Main Title)
    I love this score because of memory of Robbinhood animation! , not the movie ! I know you feel the same . right ?

    Ok...Ok....I won't miss it ! Here you are !#10 must be sci-Fic!
    Among "love theme" in Superman and love theme in starwars and both by J. Williams !..... I pick up finally :

    10.Across the Stars: Love theme from Star Wars Episode II Attack of the Clones. Music by John Williams and the London Symphony Orchestra.
    "Their love is complicated - pure yet forbidden, personal but with profound ramifications for an entire galaxy. Somehow, John has managed to convey all of that complexity in a simple, hauntingly beautiful theme."
    ―George Lucas

    Tara theme....Lara theme....Deborah's Theme...and all "Love theme "....I really need to make a romance movie before death and try to say not more than 100 words here ! prevent splitting my note!

    1. Dear Maryam,

      "Let me be clear" (as Obama would say): You need to start your own movie blog! Yours wasn't a comment ... it was a whole analysis!


      Thanks for the great list. Some points that came to mind:

      1. Vangelis's soundtrack for "Chariots of Fire" was actually written for Iranian sports news shows! You know what I mean:

      2. I had no familiarity with "Amelie"'s music (I guess you know why). But now I should look into it. Thanks.

      3. It's good that "Amdeus"'s music wasn't eligible as movie soundtrack; otherwise, the music for "Immortal Beloved" would probably be the best soundtrack ever. Anyway, music or no music, this is my favorite part in "Amadeus", which actually illustrates the step-by-step creation of a masterpiece:

      4. IMO, the simple piece you mentioned from "Last of Mohicans" is one of the greatest pieces of movie music ever made. I've listened to it hundreds of times, and it never gets old.

      I've listened to the entire soundtrack quite a few times, and never knew why both Jones and Edelman were involved. Thanks for the info. Here's another good track, written by Edelman:

      5. Among the "Once Upon a Time in America" tracks, this one is my favorite:

      6. Again, that soundtrack wasn't written for "The Cassandra Crossing" - it was written for Robin Hood!


      7. And among all John Williams possibilities ... you chose a love theme?!!! Oh God ...


  6. Whenever I could reach my pace of watching from 0.5 MPD to the rate of 1-2MPD(yours!) I'll start my own blog!

    1. Treadmills do wonders! One extra hour a day to watch movies!